Friday, 29 October 2010

Twitter round up

As I mentioned before it can be hard to find the spoons to write here, but what's really easy and uses little energy is tweeting. So sometimes I post links to articles on Twitter that don't get covered here on the main site. And that's not good for our non-tweeting readers who end up missing stuff.

So I thought I should start doing a regular (or as regular as I can manage) round up of relevant news stories that we've tweeted.

There's been quite a lot about the housing benefit cuts. The Guardian reported that councils are planning for an exodus of families from London. Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, told the BBC that he will not accept "Kosovo-style social cleansing" of the capital due to a government cap on housing benefits. (And as many Tweeters pointed out, when BoJo is standing up for the poor you know there's something really wrong.) Unsurprisingly many MPs distanced themselves from Johnson's comments and Vince Cable accused the mayor of using "inflammatory language". The Independent report that the government is determined to push ahead with the plans regardless and that Cameron thinks the cap is "fair".

The next big issue is the planned removal of the mobility component of DLA from people resident in care homes. BenefitScroungingScum appeared on BBC Radio Leeds to talk about the issue. @beccaviola tweeted that having her Motability vehicle while she was stuck in a care home was the thing that stopped her killing herself. RADAR released a statement that they're strongly opposed to the plan.

The big twitter story of the week has been the Vodafone tax bill story that we reported last month. Protesters managed to shut down both a Leeds branch of the store and Vodafone's flagship store on Oxford Street. There are more protests planned for tomorrow (scroll down to the comments for a slightly more accessible plan if travelling all over London isn't that ideal for you). Johann Hari wrote a column about just how effective protesting can be. @kimkali wondered if all those made homeless by the cuts are going to move in to their local Vodafone store.

Other tweets of note:

And finally: The CAB are conducting some research into the ESA medicals process. If you're claiming/about to claim have a look at their Fair Welfare campaign page.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

More vlogs

Well, it seems that vlogging is the new blogging. Here are 3 videos that have been made by members of our writing team in the last few days.

This time last week I posted BenefitScroungingScum's first video. Here is number 2:

And number 3:

A couple of days ago Blu did a "day in the life" twitter diary which Incurable Hippie turned into a silent video:

Finally, it's not a vlog, it's a clip from his live TV show last Friday. But Paul O'Grady on the subject of cuts is worth a watch:

Parts of that last video have been transcribed by The Guardian's MediaMonkey, but I'm afraid not in its entirety.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

People with autism fear for the future

A group called Autism Campaigners Together (ACT NOW) are, like all of us, deeply concerned about the cuts. On 18 October members handed in a petition to Downing Street and also launched their Impact Assessment for the cuts announced to date (note, this does not cover the second tranch of cuts, announced last week on 20 October).

Here is a link to ACT NOW's Impact Assessment, detailing the fears of people with Autistic spectrum condition, particularly regarding the introduction of a medical assessment for Disability Living Allowance. The report includes many illustrative quotes, such as:

“It is difficult to imagine that services and provision for adults with autism can actually get any worse, just about nothing exists for them now. It's difficult to see where cuts can be made - my son currently gets no support as the school age support service here has no staff. So the service we've been told he needs doesn't exist.”

“I am Autistic. My nervous system is so hypersensitive which means things are much much brighter, louder and my skin far more sensitive than the average person. A normal sound or sensation for an average person can register anywhere from 30-50 times more powerful for me I have a total lack of sensory filter. I am terrified that people like myself with invisible conditions will end up homeless or worse. I barely leave my home due to
my condition. I think this Government is picking on the vulnerable.”

“Many children and adults with autism, my own included, are terrified at the thought of seeing a doctor. Why is it necessary for a child with a lifelong disability to need a doctor’s assessment? What is the doctor going to assess if my child just sits very quietly in front of the doctor because he is scared of him? I can see a lot of disabled children and adults having benefit withdrawn because of this.”

The Impact Assessment clearly highlights existing issues with support for people with autism and the fact that things cannot afford to get worse: they find it hard to get benefits as it is, without any change to the way DLA is assessed; they may want to work but the support isn’t there; many parents have become full-time carers for their children and are not able to work as a result. Some of the comments from are heartbreaking. For anyone who wants to better understand the challenges for people with autism and their families when navigating the benefits system, this report is essential reading.

One professional is quoted as saying: “We should not be reducing their access to benefits; this will have the effect of increasing anxiety and put them at increased risk of mental health problems. Instead we need to invest in positive approaches in all areas. Cuts now in financial support will lead to a massive increase in costs in the future when services have to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong.”

ACT NOW is calling for talks with David Cameron to discuss their concerns. I hope they are successful but I won’t be holding my breath...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

'Not Really Disabled'

This is a guest post by pinkpjs

Since May one of the most successful things to be achieved by the
condems seems to be the legitimisation of scapegoating and targeting
of disabled people so wiping away years of struggle for equality and
social justice by disabled people and effectively taking us back to
some very dark days when we are perceived not as human beings but as
'useless eaters' only this time we are undeserving liars and cheats as

The extent of this was made more apparent to me two days after
listening in disbelief to the cheers greeting Osbourne's shock and awe
attack on services and benefits that we depend on for our health and

As part of my job I had to attend a meeting with a manager working with
the DWP who told me that their role was to support disabled people to
receive benefits they are entitled to.

I asked them about the changes to DLA in particular and the impact of
people in residential care and was shocked to be told that 'they don't
really need the mobility allowance as most of them rarely go out except
to medical appointments and then the staff are more than happy to take
them, so it is only fair that they shouldn't get this'.

Then, the response to my question about any other changes to DLA which
the condems have hinted at, was 'well, we all know that many people
currently getting this really aren't disabled and shouldn't be getting

I was left quite speechless at the blatant way this manager in their
professional capacity expressed their opinions which I'm assuming are
not based on fact but on propaganda, especially as this leads me to
believe this could effectively mean that clients will not get benefits
they are entitled to.

Also, they do not know me and do not know that I have a hidden mental
health impairment and have had years of struggle to both get and keep
jobs and receive DLA which they presumably think I am not entitled to
but which actually supports and enables me to work.

They also do not know that I have been in a residential treatment unit
and depended on the mobility component of DLA in order to maintain
contact with my family and especially my children and my friends which
was vital to my recovery and to mine and my children's right to family
life, especially as I was 50 miles away from my home.

They did not know that I have many disabled friends who would see their
attitudes as deeply disciminating and offensive.

And now Labour have stated they support the condems over this I feel
that politicians think it is fair to deny disabled people hope.

Another Video Against Disability Benefit Cuts

Following this video, I was inspired to make a video too. I didn't want to post it here until I had a transcript, but that's not been forthcoming so far, so for now, here's the video.

If anybody would like to transcribe it for us, that would be great. Alternatively I will try to get one done. So apologies to those for whom this is not yet accessible.
Transcript now added below the video.

[The last few days I've watched the videos from BendyGirl at Benefit Scrounging Scum, and I loved them, I thought they were brilliant. But I never thought it was something I could do, until in her second video she pointed out how important it is for everyone to speak out.

Like many, many people I am frightened by the proposed changes, the cuts, to disability benefits, and what's going to happen to services and the third sector.

The thought of withdrawing mobility rate... the thought of withdrawing the mobility section of DLA for people in care homes is disgusting. The thought that just because somebody was living in a care home, they no longer need to go anywhere, they no longer need mobility equipment, is just obscene.

The changes in housing benefit rules so that people under 35 in private rented accommodation can't get full housing benefit if they live on their own is disgusting.

And limiting ESA to one year, when so many people were fighting against the very principle of ESA at all, and now to have to change that fight to at least, it was perhaps better than nothing, and if people are going to be put on it because they are considered fit to work, even though we know that many, many people who are not fit for work are being put on ESA, the fact that that's now limited to one year, and nobody seems to know what would happen after that.

When we are in a recession, and people – everybody who isn't working is finding it difficult to find jobs, and the strange assumption that the few jobs that there are will go to disabled people, is just not unfortunately how this society works. Disablism means that disabled people are discriminated against every day, and that includes the disabled person who is well enough to work can find it more difficult to find that job because employers are frightened, or don't want to make changes, or don't know what it means.

I'm frightened. And I'm also, like many other people, very confused. I watched the budget on Wednesday, and I was thankfully using twitter at the same time because there were many aspects that I didn't understand, or that I thought I must have misheard. And that there was a group of us all watching and using twitter at the same time made it more accessible to me, I guess.

But there are many unanswered questions. I've heard of people ringing the DWP to say, 'What's this about ESA being stopped after a year?' and the DWP not being able to answer, because they don't know.

The Housing Benefit cuts, I've heard so many different stories about who it's being cut for. So it's not just that the changes are frightening, it's that they're very unclear, and people don't know where they stand.

When I first became ill and went on benefits, I just got Income Support, and it was a horrible time. With paying part of my rent out of that, and with making debt repayments out of that, I had £15 a week for food, and electricity, and transport. For months I lived on... I used to buy these tins of Irish Stew from Kwik Save, and they were disgusting, but they were really cheap, and I figured it was as close to a balanced diet as I could get because it had meat and potatoes in it. And for months, every day, I had one meal a day, and that consisted of Kwik Save Irish Stew and as much bread as I could eat. Every day. For months. I couldn't afford sanitary towels, I couldn't afford shampoo.

I didn't know about other benefits. And someone told me about DLA and I applied for it, and I eventually got it, and it was one of the key... it was key for me, it was vital. Because my health was bad enough anyway, it was vital for me because I could afford to eat more than Irish Stew. I could afford to go to places on the bus. And I'm talking medical appointments. Before that I was missing medical appointments because I couldn't afford to get there. I could get taxis. I could get ready meals when I wasn't well enough to cook.

Getting DLA literally changed everything for me. And makes, still makes, such a difference. It means that I can afford the extra things I need because I'm disabled. Like taxis. Like ready meals when I can't cook. Like mobility aids, and other aids I use. DLA, along with everything, is being threatened. With ATOS taking over the medicals. And after what they've done with the ESA medicals that's frightening, and many people who need DLA are going to lose it.

Everything that is happening since the new government came in is frightening to disabled people. And I'm not a Labour supporter. I know that various important Labour politicians have come out and said that they would be doing what the Conservatives are doing with regard to disability benefits. So I'm not falling into the trap of saying, 'the coalition government is awful, Labour is the answer', because they are... although they are fighting some aspects of the budget, they are supporting the disability benefit cuts.

I feel like I'm being punished for being disabled. The press and the government are doing a really good job at the moment of whipping up hatred, whipping up this image of disabled people being scroungers, of disabled people not really being disabled, and being workshy and lazy. The government and certain parts of the press are promoting this strongly and I can feel, in the atmosphere, that this is affecting people's views. And with the further cuts, this gets worse and worse.

What depresses me is not my illness. What depresses me is not my impairment. What depresses me is how I am treated because of it. That's what makes everything so much harder. We do need to speak out. Because disabled people are being scapegoated and it's horrible. And for non-disabled people, you don't know what's round the corner. I became disabled. Many people become disabled. It could be you in a few years, with no care packages, with no benefits, with no support. With people thinking... with people thinking you're lazy or can't be bothered, or exaggerating. Nobody's immune from disability. And there are some people in the government, the Prime Minister included, who really should know that through their own lives. I am so... I'm frightened, and I want to give a message of hope, but at the moment it's hard to find one.

So I'll agree with BendyGirl that the hope... maybe we have to get hope from each other... from knowing it's not just us, it's not just me that's frightened, it's not just me that's confused, who doesn't know what's happening and what's going to happen.

We're all in this together.]

Saturday, 23 October 2010

What the coalition really means by "fairness"

The new government likes to talk about fairness. We keep hearing about how it's supposedly at the heart of coalition policy. But when Cameron, Clegg and co talk about fairness, what do they really mean?

You may think they mean protecting the most vulnerable people in society, as promised in Cameron's inaugural speech. Yet the people losing out from the cuts are those with disabilities, low-income earners, mothers, children and people who need legal aid.

So perhaps you think the coalition talks about fairness, then doesn't walk the talk. But I don't think that's quite it. I don't think they're saying one thing and doing another. I think people are misinterpreting what they're saying.

I keep remembering the time I saw David Cameron talking about inheritance tax on TV, possibly during the pre-election debates. There was a phrase that he kept using: "people who've done the right thing".

You may think "fairness" means equality of opportunity and support for the vulnerable, rather than a society that rewards the rich and penalises the poor. But that's not what the coalition really means by "fairness", and Cameron's talk of "people who've done the right thing" says it all.

This coalition does not understand that people who are out of work cannot simply pop to the Jobcentre and find a new job at the drop of a hat (given stats show there are thousands more jobseekers than there are jobs), or that disabled people can't just magic an expensive wheelchair out of thin air.

Because this coalition is run by people who think the amount you earn determines your worth to society - and that the amount you earn reflects how hard you work. This coalition thinks that people on low incomes simply do not work as hard and so have no right to expect to be able to afford decent accommodation.

This coalition believes that the more money you have, the more deserving you are. That the more you earn, the more you are "doing the right thing". When they talk about fairness, they're talking about being fair to the people who have everything, not those who have nothing. And there's nothing fair about that.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Shame on you Prime Minister. I know you know better.

One of the quietest announcements in today's Comprehensive Spending review was that the High Rate Mobility component of Disability Living Allowance will be removed from those resident in care homes. On the face of it that might seem a sensible place to save money, after all if someone lives in a care home surely they don't need to worry about transport, but this is certainly the nastiest, pettiest cut of all. Petty because the numbers of people resident in care homes is a very small proportion of the overall awards for high rate mobility meaning the sums of money to be saved are minimal. But downright nasty, disdainful and cruel because people resident in care homes are far more likely to use the mobility component of their disability living allowance to pay towards the phenomenally expensive specialist wheelchairs they need rather than a vehicle.

I believe that matters relating to health and disability should never be party political, they are too important for that. That David Cameron, himself the father of a profoundly disabled child, should preside over this kind of cut is wicked. Shame on you Prime Minister. I know you know better. I know you know how difficult the lives of disabled people and their families can be. I know you could afford to pay for the additional costs of disability and I know you know how high those costs are, far in excess of the actual levels of Disability Living Allowance. That you would allow this to happen is such callous disregard for those with severe disabilities that it makes me weep.

Comprehensive Spending Review - Live Blog Impact on Disabled People

Cross posted from BenefitScroungingScum

As the details of the Comprehensive Spending Review are announced over the next few hours I'll try to put those aspects which affect disabled people into this blog as quickly as possible. Watch this space...

  • Cuts might seem less traumatic to an already frightened and vulnerable population if the ConDem government made at least a token effort to disguise their glee.  
  • Tweeted by @jonesythered "...Reform the welfare system that our country can no longer afford" - Translation: 'We're shutting down the welfare state. Bye bye!'
  • "Public services and welfare system will be put on a sustainable footing" George Osborne. Translation "Cut, cut, cut"
  • "Fairness means creating a welfare system that helps the vulnerable, supports people into work and is affordable for the working families who pay for it." George Osborne  
  •  Administrative budgets of every main government department will be cut by a third
  • 490 000 public sector jobs to go
  • Core grants to local authorities will be reduced except for fire, police and education. Why is social care not exempt?
  • Grant funding for social care increased by £1bn and a further £1bn to the NHS so that elderly people do not fall between the cracks of two systems. Begs the question does the chancellor know that adult social care applies to 18+ not just the elderly?
  • Social Housing. Current tenants will not be changed. For future tenants will be flexible length tenancy and increased rents
  • Priority given to protecting Disabled Facilities Grant
  • Osbourne "Social housing changes - New tenants will have higher rents at 80% of local rent levels. Exisiting tenants unchanged "csr10 #cuts tweeted by @HovellingHermit
  • Extra £2bn for social care by 2014/15
  • Social Housing. New Tenants to pay 80% of market rent. No detail as to how that will work with 10% reduction in Housing Benefit, currently paid for by Local Authorities or £400 per week cap affecting places like London most severely
  • An extra 150,000 affordable homes over four years? A fraction of what is needed to meet need and demand. #csr10 Tweeted by @patrickjbutler
  • "A fair government makes sure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden." George Osborne
  • "I completely understand the publics anger that the banks that were so poorly regulated over the last decade and wrought such damage to our economy should be contemplating paying such high bonuses. We have set up independant commission on banking." George Osborne
  • Our aim will be to extract the maximum sustainable financial revenues [from the banks] George Osborne
  • Police spending to fall by 4% each year. As disability hate crime does not have the same legal protection as racial hate crime will this mean even more disabled people fall victim?
  • Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated anymore. We estimate £5bn is lost this year each way. We will step up our plans to combat benefit cheats
  • A civilised country provides for families, protects the most vulnerable. 
  • Guarantee of decent income in retirement has to be paid for. Lord Turner's report on pensions acknowledged more generous pensions must be paid for by increase in state pension age. 
  • State pension age for men and women will be 66 starting in 2015
  • £5bn Osborne claims is fraudulent in welfare system is disingenous at best. The figure includes official error made by DWP
  • Welfare system is there to help people of working age when they lose their job, have a disability or have children. 
  • "Last govt promised reform and flunked it. We will deliver" GO
  • Universal Credit. Guiding rule, it will always pay to work. Those who get work will be better of than those who don't.
  • UC introduced over next 2 parliaments and will go alongside new work programme we are introducing today
  • DWP will make savings to help deliver these schemes by digital uses but we will also be seeking additional £200 million savings from rest of welfare bill
  • Contributory ESA will be time limited to 1 year for those in employment group
  • Rules on Mobility and Care elements of DLA to be aligned for those in residential care
  • Tax credits, basic and 30 hour elements to be frozen
  • Introducing new cap on benefits. NO family which doesn't work will receive more in benefits than the average family in work. Those in receipt of DLA WILL be excluded from this cap
  • Universal benefits for pensioners, free eye tests, free TV licenses, winter fuel allowance will remain exactly as budgeted for by the previous govt
  • Temporary increase in cold weather payments becomes permanent increase! This applies to those on benefits such as income support if the temperature falls below 0 degrees for at least 7 consecutive days
  • Contribution based limited to a year for those in employment group but what about income based ? Means testing by stealth? @BendyGirl
  • Benefits savings help protect NHS George Osborne
  • So far information about changes to Disability Living Allowance are conspicuous in their absence.
  • Re £5bn Osborne claims is lost to fraud in benefits system. Only £1.5bn is fraud. Rest is official error. Blatant misrepresentation of fraud levels being used as an excuse to justify cuts.
  • #dla 'reforms' will probably be announced in seperate announcement - maybe when in Social Security Uprating statement announcing next year's levels @TimMullen
  • Educational Maintenance Allowance to be replaced by more targeted support

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Employer's Forum warn disabled people and employers could lose out

"Enforcement of equality law and employer centred welfare reform should not be undermined by spending cuts, otherwise disabled people and employers could lose out says Employer's Forum on Disability"

Tomorrow's Comprehensive Spending Review will affect the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Office for Disability Issues. The Chief Executive of the Employer's Forum on Disability, Susan Scott-Parker said;

"We fully support the government's intentions to get disabled people off benefits and into work. We know from working with hundreds of employers over nearly 20 years that it makes good business sense to employ disabled people. We also understand that the government has tough decisions to make.

Two proven ways to get disabled people into work are: credible enforcement of equality law by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and putting employers' recruitment needs at the heart of welfare reform. Government work after the Comprehensive Spending Review should build on, not duplicate, our experience in this area"

 Full article at eGov Monitor

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Fate of disability quangos becomes slightly clearer

Last month, we posted that a number of vital disability quangos were facing the axe as part of the government's spending review. On Thursday 14 October, a list detailing the fate of all the quangos under review was published. Of those that affect disabled people, things are not much clearer.

Perhaps most importantly, the Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance Advisory Board is to be closed. It no longer qualifies as an NDPB*  and its functions are to be transferred to both the Department for Work and Pensions, with external specialist advice if required, and Equality 2025.

The Disabled Persons’ Transport Advisory Committee is also to be closed, as it too no longer has NDPB status. The government says it it is still "exploring options for continuing to gain the disability advice we need through a more flexible, accountable structure". This leaves our transport issues in limbo, as once the committee is shut down it could be months or even years before any announcement is made as to who or what will take over its function. And in the meantime, nothing will happen.

Equality 2025 will also take on responsibility for the functions of the Disability Employment Advisory Committee, which again no longer has NDPB status.

Both the Independent Living Fund and Remploy are officially "under consideration"** with options still being looked at. On the one hand, that might not be a bad thing - no decision has been made yet as to whether to keep them as they stand. On the other hand, if they do go, their replacements could be far worse, assuming they are actually replaced.

Lastly, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to be retained and substantially reformed, with "better focus on its core regulatory functions and improved use of taxpayers' money". Let's hope the changes will put finally disability equality on a par with racial and gender equality.

* Non-Departmental Public Body. NDPBs may have either an executive or advisory role.

** "Under consideration" means "part of an existing wider review, including the spending review, or under specific consideration as part of public bodies reforms".

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The damaging effects of how people perceive disability benefits

I've been thinking about the widespread perception that getting disability benefits is easy - and the damage this causes.

First, some background. I don't know how many people believe what they read in papers like The Sun, whose "shop a scrounger" campaign complains about people who "claim to be sick when they are perfectly capable of work", or the Daily Mail, which is happy to conclude that anyone who fails the work capability assessment is a scrounger.

But read the comments on any article covering disability issues, such as this one on Guardian Comment is Free, and you realise very quickly that two very wrong, and very common, viewpoints persist among the general public.

1. People believe that it's really easy to get disability benefits. Hence comments like this one: "So we should just accept a total stranger's word that they're disabled enough?" The writer receives DLA, which is not easy to access and has the lowest fraud rate of any benefit. It's not their word, but that of the DWP, which has assessed their eligibility.

2. People believe that assessments and tests - such as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) - are fair. They think the few cases that make the news are anomalous and most people get treated just fine. Hence comments like this one: "No-one begrudges disabled people the help they need. If the new work capability assessment wrongly reduces the benefits of the genuinely disabled, that is very regrettable. But it will identify people who are not genuinely disabled who should not be allowed to hide behind those that are."

Anyone with any knowledge of the Work Capability Assessment will know it is very difficult for a lot of genuinely disabled people to pass. But the people who believe these assessments are fair no doubt also believe they are made on the basis of all the evidence available, from an informed viewpoint - rather than being a box-ticking exercise.

Yet we hear about people being assessed by doctors with completely different specialisms - or in some cases by nurses or midwives, who aren't qualified to assess them. And we hear about, say, the case of the person whose assessment said they could move their arms when in fact the only movement was from uncontrolled tremors. Or the man dying of a progressive brain tumour forced to make a four-hour round trip to an ATOS assessment. Try telling that to anyone with no experience of disability and they'll suppose it's made up, or tell you a story about their friend's aunt's dog's cousin who was once signed off sick when they weren't really ill.

Similarly, people assume that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is not refused to those who need it. To take one example of many, Where's The Benefit's Louise Bolotin wrote this piece for the Observer a while ago when the DWP said she was more in need of her DLA than before - but decided to stop it anyway, meaning she had to go through the stress of an appeal.

When people hear about these supposedly far-fetched cases, they assume they're rare or made-up. They assume the system is fair and that the people who are in genuine need can access the help they need.

And because people think it's too easy to get disability benefits, they think it's fine to make the tests tougher and insist on reassessing DLA claimants in an attempt to cut the caseload because, hey, it's what's fair for the taxpayer, supposedly. Except that wasting taxpayers' money on needless extra assessments and appeals doesn't benefit anyone. Except possibly some lawyers.

And people think that the genuinely disabled have nothing to fear. So again, they think it's fine to make disability benefits harder to access, because they think anyone who does qualify will be able to get through whatever assessment is in place because, again, it's supposedly fair. And as long as the government keeps implying such benefits are handed out like sweets, nothing is going to change. People will keep on thinking, well, it's only right that they're properly checked out.

The government's constant attacks on disabled people are not fair. Like the constant propaganda about how we are scroungers who waste taxpayers' money, and the decision to impose arbitrary cuts on caseloads for disability benefits.

And the result of all this is that people who become disabled and genuinely need to make a claim for benefits such as ESA or DLA get the shock of their lives when they realise how hard it will be.

If you are one of society's more vulnerable members, you will have to fight for everything and wade through reams and reams of red tape. That is the experience that many of us have. And people who become eligible for disability benefits and try to claim them are often completely shocked. Some do not have the energy, emotional strength and/or intellectual capacity to go through all of the form-filling and bureaucracy involved in applying and apppealing.

But so long as the myth persists that it's simple and easy to apply for disability benefits, people will believe that anyone who says it's not is making a fuss over nothing, or sticking up for so-called scroungers - and when people become eligible for these benefits and try to apply, they will continue to be absolutely gobsmacked when they find out how difficult it is.

What kind of a welfare system expects some of the most vulnerable people in society, including people with permanent disabilities, long-term health conditions and terminal illnesses, to master acres of bureaucracy? And what kind of a government claims that is fair? None of these questions are new - but we need to keep asking them.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

World Mental Health Day: Fighting to be recognised, fighting for benefits

Today is World Mental Health Day. It’s also a supposedly auspicious date; many couples are rushing to marry on 10/10/10. But for those with mental illness, there is very little to celebrate. I’ve spoken to two people to find out what today means to them – and to discover how benefit cuts will affect their lives.

Ishmael, a man in his 50s, has manic depression. He is a friendly and engaging man, yet his comments are almost tongue-in-cheek, tinged with the scepticism of a man who has been through the system. He says he is “receiving benefits relevant to someone who lives under the scraped out barrel and is burnt out”.

“It is only because I do stuff for World Mental Health day that I know it is happening. And the awareness events that I have been invited to are preaching to the converted.” He feels that understanding will only come from having a close friend or partner with a disability.

So are “awareness days” actually useful? Do they lead to long-term changes, or even increase knowledge of those conditions?

Kerry is a woman in her 20s with schizoaffective disorder. She speaks eloquently about the understanding that could come if the media report mental health issues appropriately.

“I’d like news journalists to liaise better with specialist health reporters when covering news with health implications. I'm doing an interview soon on my experience of schizoaffective disorder for the Sun newspaper, and whilst their health section is surprisingly reasonable, the main pages often don't seem to have moved on from 'Bonkers Bruno'.”

While World Mental Health Day may raise the profile of mental illness among the public, it’s clear that the government could do with a better understanding of the problems faced. Kerry described the difficulties in claiming benefits, in a system which requires illness to be measured in a tangible, predictable manner:

“It's not possible to give a prognosis as to how long I'll be in a 'bad patch' or not, so when the Government demands that I should be expected to be ill for another six months, that's not meaningful. I'll probably always have schizoaffective, but no-one can tell whether I'll be able to work in 6 months or not.

“The nature of mental illness means it's hard to deal with the stressful and mentally taxing process of applying for benefits when you are at your most ill. When I most need benefits, I can't concentrate for long enough to fill in the forms, I don't properly understand why I have to do them or sometimes just how ill I am, and often I am scared to tell the Government anything because I have delusional beliefs that they will use it to harm me. Housing benefit I find the worst - when you are already scared that people are watching you for malevolent purposes, filling in 19-page forms asking which bedroom you sleep in is not a good thing to be doing.”

Kerry also applied for Employment and Support Allowance, and found the medical assessment difficult, and inappropriate for her condition:

“I found it very stressful and humiliating to answer lots of very personal questions to a complete stranger, particularly as she said she needed to know things which the voices won't even let me tell my psychiatrist. It was hard to concentrate, I was confused, and my voices were getting more and more angry that I was talking about them to this strange woman.

“Towards the end of the exam, she did some physical tests on me, like seeing how I could move my arms and legs. I thought this was bizarre, since I don't have a physical impairment, and I don't like people touching me. I was worried she would hurt me.”

When it is so difficult for someone with mental health conditions to be awarded benefits in the first place, there is a real risk that they will be left behind when the swathe of cuts come in. Ishmael is concerned: “The government thinks that by shutting down services and not paying for the needs of the mental healthers, we and our problems won't exist. I had better pull my socks up! My early years were impoverished and how to survive has stayed with me, but I am concerned for those who would not be able to manage so well.”

Kerry: “A friend with severe chronic mental illness in Liverpool has been asked to pay £70 per week to use the day centre which is her only social contact. How's she meant to find that from benefits, particularly if they are being cut?”

As their conditions can be invisible to outsiders, people with mental health issues are vulnerable when times are hard. The final word goes to Kerry, who says that we can fight this: “We don't have to roll over and let things happen. Get involved with Coalition of Resistance and / or Right to Work in your area. Even if you aren't able to help practically, tell them about cuts to benefits and services you use. Together, we can spread the message that these cuts will hurt people, screw up the economy, and we aren't just going to let it happen.”

This post was crossposted to

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Destination Unknown

The charities Scope and The Barrow Cadbury Trust commissioned some research by the think tank Demos into the effects of welfare cuts on disabled people, which has been released today.

The Government’s proposed welfare reforms will see 3.5 million disabled people lose over £9.2 billion of critical support by 2015 pushing them further into poverty and closer to the fringes of society. Plans to move disabled people onto Job Seekers Allowance will account for half (£4.87 billion) of these losses.

The report, Destination Unknown, also questions Government claims that the proposals will result in more disabled people moving into work, arguing that, in fact, they are likely to result in more disabled people ending up trapped in long-term unemployment and a low pay no pay cycle – ultimately costing the tax-payer far more.


A synopsis of the report is available on Scope's website while a pdf of the full 164 page document is available via Demos.

Friday, 8 October 2010

An Easy Way to Email your MP to Protest Benefit Cuts.

Scope are running a campaign to email your MP to ask them to take action immediately to oppose the cuts to the public services and benefits that many disabled people in the UK use and rely on.

All you have to do is fill in your contact details, then your MP's email address is automatically found and you can read and alter the proposed message before you confirm that you would like it to be sent.

So, email your MP to protest the proposed cuts here.

Cross-posted at incurable hippie blog.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

DLA and work? Who is confused here?

At the moment, it's me that's confused. You see, the media still report on Disability Living Allowance as if it has some kind of relationship to whether the recipient can work or not. But that's not the case at all!

In fact, as you will see from my earlier article "The real difference made by Disability Living Allowance", often DLA is what enables people to stay in work - perhaps it is spent on taxis to the office, or on food or a cleaner (because the disabled person either has enough energy to go to work, or to cook and clean for themself, but not both).

So why does the BBC report on possible changes to DLA in the same breath as a reference to "work"? Is it the journalist at fault, or (more likely in my opinion) they are simply repeating the words of various MPs. Either way, I'd like to see some clarity over this issue, because at the moment I am confused by what is being reported.

In this article, about the most costly UK benefits, the BBC reports that 'Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently said the benefit would remain separate from "universal credit", with carers free to take part-time or short-term work without losing their benefits.'

This is good news - the last thing we want is for DLA to be sucked into a credit system which pays out based on your ability to take a job - although the reference to carers being able to work is a little confusing. I presume this refers to unpaid carers, who currently claim Carer's Allowance for looking after a relative, but it's hard to be sure.

The article continues: 'There are no plans to reduce DLA, but a strict new medical assessment is due to be introduced from 2013 to help claimants "reduce dependency and promote work".'

Now I really am confused. As I reported earlier, sometimes DLA is spent in a way which will enable the disabled person to stay in employment, but it is actually paid because of needs which are completely irrelevant of the recipient's working status. After all, your ability to wash yourself, or to walk (to take two simple examples) does not change because you do, or do not have a job.

The government has already said that the new medical test is intended to reduce the number of DLA claimants by 20%. But I am not sure how taking benefit from 1 in 5 people will "reduce dependency" (on what?) and "promote work" - indeed, several of the people quoted in my previous article about DLA would have to stop working if they lost that benefit, because they do not have enough energy or capacity to both care for themselves AND go to work. If the government think that turfing disabled people off DLA will suddenly give them the capacity to work, they are very much mistaken. It will just disable them even further.

I have one thought, and fear, which may explain the confusion in what has been reported. Perhaps MPs are referring to DLA as being related to work because they have a secret plan to introduce means-testing in the future, in the same way that they have recently announced that households with a higher rate tax payer will no longer qualify for Child Benefit? I sincerely hope that's not the case, as DLA is essential for the individual disabled person's independence. Thankfully, no such plan exists at the moment.

Disability Living Allowance is paid regardless of whether the disabled person is in work. Journalists and MPs, please take note!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Protesting at the Tory Party Conference

A (hopefully!) large group of disabled people will be protesting against the proposed benefits cuts outside the Tory Party conference tomorrow, Sunday 3rd October 2010. For details of where, times, etc, please see Disabled People Protest.

If, like me, you're unable to go due to a lack of money and/or a lack of spoons then the United Front against benefits cuts has organised a "virtual protest".

To take part they're asking everyone, for just one day on 3rd October, to replace their user pictures on sites like Facebook and Twitter with this image:

image of a blood red teardrop with the text

The organiser of the event describes the reason for the image as:

Cuts hurt when its you thats bleeding

Those participating in the physical protest in Birmingham will be using fake blood also to convey the message that benefits cuts kill

The online protest is an accessible way for most of us to show that we are opposed to the cuts. On Monday you can change your avatar back to the image you usually use to represent yourself online. Please spread the message far and wide. Hopefully between us we'll be able to get some public figures to change their icon with us in solidarity to get the message out that these benefits cuts are not acceptable to us.